[Thanks to James Heffernan, founder and editor-in-chief of Review 19 for sharing this review with readers of the Victorian Web. — George P. Landow.]

Illuminated initial T

his book addresses the tensions in Trollope's fiction that are reflected in the contradictory responses to his work. While seeking to accommodate the longstanding view of Trollope as "mythmaker of an England long lost to modernity," Dever and Niles also explore the new territories scholars have opened up more recently, finding "plots of class mobility in all directions, queer desire, a uniquely cosmopolitan world view, the subversion of the formal and social imperatives of mid-Victorian realism" (1). The diversity of these approaches springs from the "bimodality" of Trollope's own work. "Indeed," the editors write, "the cumulative argument of this volume is that Trollope's very bimodality is at the heart of his readers' passionate, diverse responses to his work" (2).

Of the eighteen contributors to this collection, Victoria Glendinning, David Skilton, Robert Tracy, and Mark Turner have written distinguished, foundational books on Trollope. Gordon Bigelow and Lisa Niles are writing manuscripts, Bigelow's on the Irish novels and Niles's on the short fiction, both of which-- judging by their insightful essays here--promise to be important contributions to Trollope studies. Traditionally, most contributors chosen for the Cambridge Companion series are scholars who have made their name writing on the author featured: e.g., Stevie Davies on the Brontës. By casting a wider net for their volume on Trollope, Dever and Niles bring in new, vibrant voices like Ayelet Ben-Yishai and Niles herself, as well as the voices of more established scholars--Kate Flint, Mary Poovey, Jenny Bourne Taylor, William Cohen, Laurie Langbauer, Elsie Michie, James Buzard, Amanda Claybaugh, Gordon Bigelow, Nicholas Birns, and indeed Dever herself--who are for the most part better known for brilliant work in other fields of Victorian scholarship.

Writing on Trollope presents unique difficulties. As James Kincaid, one of the most perceptive Trollope scholars, observes in a reader's report: "Victorian scholars have long recognized Anthony Trollope as a writer who does not respond well to traditional approaches. The peculiar power he generates seems to require a good deal more than what even the best critics can muster." Furthermore, Kincaid writes, finding new paradigms and approaches to Trollope's work requires "long immersion in Anthony Trollope." How much immersion in Trollope scholarship does this volume of essays reveal? Given the editors' ambition to examine contradictory responses to his work, I am surprised to find major studies of it barely cited in some of the essays, other than in a "Further Reading" section at the back of the book. Several of the essays display little familiarity with the scholarship that informs the very frictions upon which the collection is premised--e.g., much-discussed passages in the novels are glossed without reference to significant previous scholarship on them. To my mind, the scholarly progenitor of this book is The Changing World of Anthony Trollope (1968), by Robert Polhemus, who first insisted on a more subversive Trollope, and whose essays in Comic Faith, Erotic Faith, and The Politics of Gender consolidate his signal importance in Trollope studies. Yet not only is he unacknowledged in the Introduction, but only two of these essays--Kate Flint's and William Cohen's--cite Changing World, and Polhemus's works are not listed in "Further Reading."

That said, Dever and Niles's collection offers consistently illuminating perspectives of Trollope as conservative or progressive, conventional or innovative, a party man or a subversive. The "colonial" essays as a group are especially wonderful. One of the best that comes down on the side of Trollope as modern innovator is Mark Turner's "Trollope's Literary Life and Times," which argues for Trollope's global reach and the dissemination of "the Trollope brand" in an increasingly global literary culture. Of Trollope's Harry Heathcote of Gangoil (1874) and Australia (1873), serialized and published both in England and in Australia, Turner provocatively asks: "Is he 'writing back' to the metropole, or does he have his international and specifically Australian readership in mind?" (15). Likewise arguing powerfully for an experimental Trollope and his "literary cosmopolitanism" is Nicholas Birns's "Trollope and the Antipodes," which explores the narrative possibilities opened up by the Suez Canal's "recolonial effect," as it greatly shortened travel time between England and Australia and New Zealand. Birns examines this influence in Trollope's non-fiction travel book and in his Australian and New Zealand fictions from Lady Anna (1874), with its "Antipodean . . . marriage plot," through the bigamy plot of John Caldigate (1879), "Trollope's most substantive Antipodean novel" (182), to important stories like "Catherine Carmichael." Though Trollope was capable of "anti-imperialist" gestures and "did not totally dismiss the claims of indigenous people" in his travel book, Birns finds him participating in "hegemonic discourses of racism" (187). Yet in another recent volume of essays on Trollope, Helen Blythe treats the "gentlemanly Maori servant" in "Catherine Carmichael" as a touchstone of both aesthetic worth and civility (The Politics of Gender 139).

Amanda Claybaugh takes us back to the Northern Hemisphere. In her compelling, beautifully argued "Trollope and America," she examines Trollope's experiments with the "American Girl"-- women like Winifred Hurtle in The Way We Live Now (1875), who "bring maturity and sexual experience into the courtship plot, even as this history is cordoned off from the present and confined to another country" (222). But in writing of the "shadowed American pasts" of these women, Claybaugh misinterprets Ella [Beaufort Lefroy] Peacocke of Dr. Wortle's School (1881), who surely has a Creole past in Louisiana that evokes racial as well as national difference.

Trollope's conservatism occupies James Buzard and Gordon Bigelow. In the thoughtful, comprehensive "Trollope and Travel," Buzard argues that Trollope's travel books let readers find "their own insular preoccupation" (170) and "no substantial alteration of perspective" (171). But in an excellent, authoritative essay on the Irish novels, Gordon Bigelow shows how a conservative Trollope undergoes a belated realization that the Irish "would continue to carry out their own vision of a just society" (209). In the early Macdermots of Ballycloran (1847), he notes, Trollope dismisses "the peasant cause as something minor and misunderstood" (209); and in the "deeply shocking" Famine novel Castle Richmond (1860), "scenes of love-making, hunting, and legal consultation proceed along conventional lines, with calamity forming the backdrop (204). only in his final, unfinished Irish novel The Landleaguers (1883), says Bigelow, does he recognize the fierce strength of Irish rebellion. But the story of Trollope's conversion may be more intricate. That he was more conflicted before The Landleaguers has been recently and importantly argued in Thomas Tracy's Irishness and Womanhood in Nineteenth-Century British Writing and in Sean O'Mealia's Consuming Fictions.

One of the collection's best essays is Kate Flint's delightful "Queer Trollope," which argues that Trollope innovates in both technique and subject matter. His often playful tolerance of gender ambivalence and sexual deviance "as a part of the sexual continuum, or as something distinctly different" (101) is especially evident in his short stories. As Flint's close readings demonstrate, the short story genre liberated Trollope to experiment with queer relationships, to be "at his most socially ludic in this developing mode, where he could set forth unconventional scenarios without any risk of them upending the ordinariness of the world that his novels depict" (100). But even in the novels, Flint stresses, "Trollope does not exclude from sympathetic--as well as critical--attention those whose lifestyles do not exemplify heterosexual courtship, romance, and marriage" (100-101). The experimental Trollope likewise engages Lisa Niles, who originally and convincingly argues that his short fiction "often resists closure, mediating a far more complex narrative strategy." Like Flint, Niles finds that for Trollope, the "marginalization" of the short story form "proved liberating" (72).

Three other contributors successfully read Trollope in terms of law, money, and sensation. Ayelet Ben-Yishai brilliantly demonstrates that Trollope's legal fictions were reformist, "part of the ongoing cultural and social crisis facing Englishness itself" (156). In her astute essay "Vulgarity and Money," Elsie Michie locates a Trollope who--with his explicit depictions of "society's ambivalent reactions to money"--illuminates hypocrisy about the "material underpinnings Victorian society wanted both to acknowledge and to disavow" (152). In "Trollope and the Sensation Novel," her tour de force essay on Trollope's original narrative strategies, Jenny Bourne Taylor argues that Trollope's realism is "hybrid, combining overt authorial intervention with the detailed ethnographic representation of the minutiae of daily life and the investigation of consciousness and subjectivity, and also drawing on Gothic and melodramatic modes" (88). Bourne Taylor's historically contextualized, theoretically sophisticated essay finds that Trollope not only "challenges the critical consensus that defined higher realism against its sensational other" but also "makes us question and recast the literary categories that we use to make sense of the rich, complex, and hybrid nature of all mid-Victorian fiction" (97).

Other strong contributions on Trollope's experiments with narrative technique include Mary Poovey's essay on the Barsetshire novels, which argues that The Last Chronicle of Barset (1867) introduced narrative "innovations" into the novel series: experiments with unmarked dialogue, a more pervasive use of free indirect discourse, and an "elaborate examination of the way characters judge each other" in lieu of narratorial judgment (41). But when Poovey insists that The Last Chronicle breaks the narrative conventions preserved in previous Barsetshire novels, she overlooks the slipperiness of their narrators. For instance, though Poovey finds an intrusive passage in The Small House at Allington (1864) typical, that novel's narrator is actually protean and nuanced, exemplifying Frank O'Connor's caution that Trollope will "lead his reader very gently up the garden path of his own conventions and prejudices and then . . . point out that the reader is wrong" (Mirror in the Roadway 168). Also, as Christopher Herbert and Reginald Terry have discussed elsewhere, Small House uses a great deal of free indirect discourse, especially in portraying the consciousness of the London "swell" Adolphus Crosbie.

The eminent Trollopian Robert Tracy (Trollope's Later Novels) also probes the innovations in Trollope’s narrative technique. In "Trollope Redux: the Later Novels," Tracy explores Trollope's use of "real and fictional" time in creating characters that evolve and change throughout the Palliser novels, which he considers "a single extended work of fiction" (61). As Tracy argues, "Trollope anticipated Proust in examining how time and social change affect his characters, yet leaves them essentially the same" (66). But when Tracy claims that a more worldly Phineas marries Madame Max Goesler for her money, because her "wealth will support his parliamentary career" (65), he overlooks the evidence that Phineas has come to love her. (After all, she makes heroic journeys to find the evidence that exonerates him from a murder charge!) While Juliet McMaster and I have discussed this relationship at length in our books on the Palliser novels, Robert Polhemus has the most penetrating--and elegiac--reading of the moment that reunites these lovers. In this moment, he writes, "Trollope sees the grace, the emotional intensity, the individual poise, and the will to communion and love upon which civilization depends" (Changing World 185).

Several essays argue for a more conservative Trollope. In "The Construction of Masculinities," David Skilton fully and incisively demonstrates his "long immersion in Trollope" by showing how much his fiction values "belonging" (131) and "modes of inclusivity" (132); in his conclusion, however, he astutely argues that "the complexity of the oeuvre derives from the unresolved interlacing of belonging and exclusion" (139). Starting with a beautifully terse first sentence-- "For Anthony Trollope, the political novel was both a subject of anxiety and an object of desire"--William Cohen's provocative essay on the Palliser novels links Trollope's famous identification of himself as "an advanced conservative Liberal" (Autobiography) to "the ideology of the novels . . . [that] contradicts the progressive vision . . . with a deeper and more thoroughly entrenched conservative advocacy for preserving established structures of power" (47). But Cohen's final line on The Duke's Children--"It is telling that the series ends, not with the rebellion of the children, but with the comfort of the parents" (56)--is surely problematic in a novel that ends with the Duke "reminding himself of all that he had suffered."

Victoria Glendinning also finds Trollope essentially conservative in "Trollope as Autobiographer and Biographer." Reviewing Trollope's poignant An Autobiography, she attentively links it to his biographies of Thackeray, Cicero, Caesar, and Lord Palmerston. To show how Trollope's own values and desires inform his biographies, she notes that he chastises Thackeray for his lack of industry and reconstructs Cicero as a Victorian gentleman. With possibly the driest material, Glendinning writes one of the liveliest and most original essays. Finally, Laurie Langbauer's erudite, well-researched essay gives Trollope's "hobbledehoy" another look. Her discussion ranges from a fascinating analysis of the term's etymology and provenance in relation to gender and class (partly in the Notes), through insightful readings of the novels, to a more familiar discussion of the Trollopian character type that Andrew Wright's Dream and Art and Reginald Terry's The Artist in Hiding have connected with Trollope's own adolescent daydreaming and lifelong writing obsession.

Joining a growing body of scholarship in Trollope studies, these essays define him as both an Englishman and a Cosmopolite--as not only an astoundingly prolific writer, but a self-conscious, innovative artist as well.


The Cambridge Companion to Anthony Trollope. . Eds. Carolyn Dever and Lisa Niles. Cambridge, 2011. xv + 236 pp.

Last modified 20 June 2014